What a couple of weeks can do

I was on the phone with a friend tonight, and he asked me how long I had been playing poker -Hold ‘Em specifically. And I had to think about it for a bit before I answered. I have had an account on PokerStars for a couple of months, and when I first started it I did play in a few micro-low-limit games, but that was about it. I played at the play money tables, found out that I wasn’t very good at it and just sort of gave it up. I only really started playing a couple of weeks ago.

The first real game I played in was actually a WWDN Tourney, a game that I played in more because I enjoyed reading Wil’s blog and thought it would be cool to play a game of cards with him than because I really thought I had a realistic shot at getting anywhere near the final table. And boy was I ever right. I didn’t go out first, but I am pretty sure I was in the top five (well, bottom five I guess, from that perspective). Yes, I got my ass handed to me. Which is an entirely false statement, the truth is that I handed my ass to myself (that didn’t come out right).

I know myself well enough to know that I am not going to take anybody’s word for anything; you tell me the sky is blue and I am damn sure gonna go check it out for myself. I don’t know what it is about me that makes me do that, but I know that I do. That translated into poker, just as it does pretty much everything else I try, in a bad way. You see, I have to go in there and try what everyone else already knows won’t work before I believe that it won’t work, which is probably a bad thing.

The only Hold ‘Em I had ever even really seen was the WSOP on the travel channel, and then only at the final table with two or three players. Which, of course, means that they guys are going to play with and call with far less than premium hands. That was something that I sure didn’t know at the time. Unfortunately, that mentality was what came into my poker game because that had been my only influence. So when the first tournament I ever really played in just happened to be with about the toughest on-line field you are likely to ever see, I beat myself, and everyone there, including me, knew it.

Nothing pisses me off more than knowing that I want to do something that I am really bad at, so I had to find a way to start getting better. But, I refused to buy or read any strategy book, or pot-odds/hand-odds type material. I wanted to start learning it myself. You see, if I take the lumps along the way, so I surmised, I would learn the lessons a lot better, and I would be far less likely to make a mistake twice, where it would be entirely possible to momentarily forget the same mathematic calculation twice. Which is all just a long, roundabout way of saying that I wouldn’t believe that I really should fold a Q-2 of hearts when three people ahead of me have already gone all-in until I have actually tried it and seen the results (which are always bad, if you are taking notes).

I began playing the low-limit tables at pokerstars and sucking handily. I played every card that had any possible flush or straight possibility. And if it was a possible straight flush, I played it hard. Note that I am not talking about like the AQ of diamonds here, I am talking about the 2-6 of hearts. Just three more hearts and I have a flush! Possibly a straight flush! Which, of course, never happened. And the few times where I actually did make the flush, I would invariably lose the pot to someone with a higher suited card. I lost, and I lost a lot.

My biggest problem (after I began to understand which hands to play) was that I was in “survive until everyone else goes out” mode. I would just sit there staring at the screen hoping beyond hope that everyone else would bust out and leave me in the money. Which also didn’t seem to work out so well, go figure. At that point I was laying down hands that were actually good so that I didn’t have to risk any portion of my meager stack. I am talking about pairs of faces that I would lay down in the face of any bet. I was scared shitless playing like, well, someone who wanted to just watch their stack get blinded away because he lacks the balls to call with the winning hand. That is not a good way to play.

After losing over and over to such horrible tactics, I changed my tactics. Good call, that. I am now into the level where I am actually thinking a few levels into each hand (with various random donkishness inserted). I am now able to think about what I am holding , come up with a fairly decent idea of what my opponent is holding (based on bets), and, most importantly, have a pretty good idea of what he thinks I am holding. Knowing what I am holding is a gimme, but the other two are taking me a lot of practice to improve at. And what is more, it seems that it is far easier to figure out the third point than the second.

The second point is the only one you have no control over; you simply can’t will him to have a different hand -trust me, I have tried. You can control what he thinks you have though, all it takes is good betting. Unfortunately, the good betting still comes and goes for me. I can sometimes do it, but sometimes, particularly if I have a decent lead or defecit, my mind just sort of shuts down. Then I look at my hand histories the next day and wonder why in the fuck I didn’t bet all in when I made my trips, and instead let it go down to the river where he made his flush. I am getting better at it though, all it takes is practice.

I did pretty much luck my way into the final table at the WWDN tourney yesterday (just on the one had really, the rest were just standard suckouts), but I also played another tourney yesterday. It was just a low-limit buy-in ($5) with a field of 45, but I played my way through it better than most of the other donkeys and finished in fourth. That was a tournament that I know I would not have made it past the first table on just a couple of weeks ago. So that made it two tournaments that I played yesterday, and two that I finished in the money. Baby steps people.

So today, while watching the The Mookie Mrs. Butterworth Open, I decided to go play a game with a field of 45 at the dollar table. Jesus titty-fucking christ. I can’t possibly have ever been that bad, can I? I folded an AQ early on when a pair of sevens hit the board and two guys went all-in. Did they both have the other sevens? Nope, they went on to split the pot with 6-9 offsuit hole cards. A split pot with 6-9 offsuit, dear God I hope I never made that push or call, but I probably did. Anyway, out of the 45 I ended up finishing fourth when I pushed all in from the button with queens, and got called by the big blind with kings. I only came in fourth, but oh how I played so much smarter than most of the other people at the table.

With luck my game will continue to get better as time goes on, but for now I am just thinking Wow, what a difference a couple of weeks can make.

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